Happy Birthday, Phil Lesh; A List of Rock's Other Elder Icons!
Born March 15, 1940, bassist Phil Lesh, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, is now at an age where he can be considered one of rock's elder icons. For a genre that was once spurred on by youthful innocence and ideals, rock now finds its original innovators firmly entrenched in senior citizen status, most having advanced well into their fifties and sixties.
It seems even more of a disconnect to imagine a 72-year old Lesh still postulating the Grateful Dead's lysergic legacy, considering that the band was born with such a freewheeling youthful purpose. The Dead were among the earliest insurgents to emerge in the mid '60s, a time when rock was still considered relatively safe and radio ready. Their communal lifestyle and a musical mantra that relied heavily on extended instrumentals that so readily accommodated drugs and daring, provided the springboard for a new youth culture that defied the norms of their elders.
That Lesh should now find himself boasting senior citizen status seems something of an anachronism. Lesh met Jerry Garcia when the latter was playing banjo in bluegrass bands and the two helped found the Warlocks, a moniker they employed until it was discovered there was already a band called the Warlocks. (Ironically, that band also opted to change their name... and become the Velvet Underground). Lesh, Garcia, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Bob Weir, and Bill Kreutzman incorporated themselves as the Grateful Dead in 1965, providing Lesh with permanent employ until Gracia's death thirty years later and the band's subsequent demise.
Still the Dead ethos continues to provide Lesh with inspiration even now. He continued to perform with his former colleagues in the Dead, the Other Ones, and Further, all of which were various Dead offshoots boasting most of the band's surviving alumni. Likewise, his own outfit, Phil Leash and Friends continued to sample the Dead's legacy.
Unfortunately, aging hasn't been easy for Lesh. In 1998 he was forced to undergo a liver transplant as a result of a chronic hepatitis C infection. He continues to advocate for organ transplants and his concerts regularly include an entry to his audience to consider organ donations. In 2006, Lesh revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer, the same disease that killed his father. He later announced that after successful surgery, he was cancer-free and he continues to tour today.
Happily too, he finds himself in good company. Here's a selective list of other rock gods that continue to perform well past the age of 70.
Bob Dylan (70)
Ringo Starr (71)
David Cosby (70)
Graham Nash (70)
Graeme Edge (70)
Lou Reed (70) and John Cale (70)
George Clinton (70)
Leonard Cohen (76)
John Mayall (78)
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